Saudi Arabia attracted significant media attention when it announced that it would finally allow women to drive as of June 2018.
It was also announced later that women will be allowed into some of the country’s sports stadiums next year. Many have since drawn comparisons between Saudi Arabia and Iran, where women have long been allowed to drive but face difficulties entering stadiums.
What is common between the two neighbors is that the status of women is defined by traditions and religious practices sanctioned by law. Where things now appear to diverge is that Saudi Arabia seems willing to challenge what has long been the norm at a faster pace.
Discriminatory attitudes toward women in the private and public spheres have long existed in both Iran and Saudi Arabia. This extends to most areas of public life, including education, political activities and employment.
While reforms in Saudi Arabia are relatively new, the women’s movement in Iran dates back a century, after the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 propelled Iran into a new era. But there are still lessons for Iran to learn from the Saudi experience.
As an attorney and lawyer who practiced in Iran, my priority has always been that of assisting women in finding creative avenues to assert their rights, particularly where the government and existing legislation fail to protect them.
Personal experience shows that law and culture can work hand in hand to shed light on the plight of women’s rights. But so does the political will of the ruling authorities, which plays an important role in reforming laws that discriminate against women.